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Feature

Jackson Katz

Jackson Katz, former football player and anti-violence expert, will speak at the Bell Museum on the University's Twin Cities campus from 4 to 5:15 p.m., Thursday, December 9. The event is free.

Me Tarzan, you Jane

By Pauline Oo

Published on December 8, 2004

Jackson Katz is "a straight white man with some privileges," and he says he's in a position to make a difference. That's why he does what he does.

Katz, one of the nation's leading anti-violence activists and a former football player, will visit the University on Thursday, December 9, to share insights about the media's role in perpetuating the violent, tough-guy image of the American male. Using a multimedia presentation, Katz will illustrate how images from sports, television, film, and music videos help promote violent masculinity as a cultural norm.

"Messages about 'manhood' as equated with dominant, in control, etc., abound in media," says Katz, director of MVP Strategies and cofounder of the Mentors In Violence Prevention (MVP) program, the leading gender violence prevention initiative in college athletics. "So do images of 'womanhood' or 'femininity' as unthreatening, subservient to men, or essentially sexual. But there are also other images and counter-presentations of gender in media, as well."

"I do not believe the primary cause [of male violence] is genetic or biological," says Katz. "Men and boys act out violently, by and large, because our culture and other cultures teach them that using force to establish or maintain control--over women or other men--is part of being a man."

The title of Katz's upcoming talk, "Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity," is also the name of the first educational video geared toward college and high school students that examines the link between pop-cultural imagery and the social construction of masculine identities in the United States. In the video, which Katz helped create four years ago, he argues that widespread violence in American society, including the tragic school shootings in Littleton, Colorado; Jonesboro, Arkansas; and elsewhere, need to be understood as part of an ongoing crisis in masculinity.

While the social construction of femininity has been widely examined, Katz says the dominant role of masculinity has until recently remained largely invisible. Katz defines masculinity as the set of characteristics a culture assigns to babies born with male reproductive organs.

"Maleness is biological; masculinity is socially constructed," he explains. "As such, it is a fluid category, always changing. This is important, because in order to reduce violence, we need to understand why so many men and boys act out violently. I do not believe the primary cause is genetic or biological. Men and boys act out violently, by and large, because our culture and other cultures teach them that using force to establish or maintain control--over women or other men--is part of being a man."

Katz is the first male to complete a Women's Studies minor at Amherst. He is the director of the first worldwide domestic and sexual violence prevention program in the United States Marine Corps. He is also the creator or cocreator of two other educational videos for college and high school students, "Wrestling With Manhood" and "Spin the Bottle: Sex, Lies, and Alcohol."

Katz will speak at the Bell Museum on the University's Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis from 4 to 5:15 p.m. on December 9. The event is free and open to the public.

"[I want people who listen to me to go away] with the idea that most--though by no means all--interpersonal violence is men's violence," he says. "Whether the victims are male or female, the perpetrators are overwhelmingly male. Let's face that, and deal with it, and figure out how to break the connection between 'manhood,' dominance, and control."